In this year in which nothing feels like what’s come before, we shouldn’t expect Independence Day to be any different. Both in activities and tone, 2020 won’t be the same.
Tens of thousands of people won’t be gathering for the National Independence Day Parade along the National Mall, as it’s been cancelled. However, the annual fireworks display is still on, meaning large crowds will still gather in D.C. and along Alexandria’s waterfront for a glimpse of the show.
We think the decision to hold the fireworks this year was unwise. It’s almost assured that the majority of fireworks-watchers will be younger people, and that most of them won’t be wearing masks and physical distancing from others, particularly if the throngs that have been patronizing lower King Street and our waterfront parks are an indication.
This means the gatherings will, in all likelihood, spread COVID-19 both here and in the District. Spread of a pandemic-caused disease is certainly a new wrinkle to July 4 gatherings.
We are also undergoing a nationwide reassessment of how our American society should be structured, prompted by the killing of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer in May. This means many will view Independence Day through a different prism than in years past.
Perhaps some of us thought that, in an era where we had elected a black mayor of Alexandria, a black governor of Virginia and even a black president of the United States, our country’s racial problems were largely behind us.
That perspective was wrong, and Floyd’s killing merely exposed what was underneath. And what was underneath was largely invisible to many in our society – therefore easily ignored – while it was a threatening, daily reality for others.
Independence Day may be coming at the right time in the midst of illness, unrest and one of the nastiest political seasons in recent memory. As Alexandria resident Jim Larocco reminds us in his letter on renaming T.C. Williams high school, see page 21, now more than ever we need to look to the ideals on which our country was founded.
Larocco emphasizes the ideal of freedom, to which we would add equality and justice. The basic concepts that people should be free and also equal under the law are timeless and universal.
He also makes the crucial point that these have always been ideals to strive for, and we’ve never come close to fully attaining them. Obviously, a large segment of our country’s inhabitants were enslaved when our founders proclaimed the colonies’ independence from England and enunciated their famous principles on that Thursday 244 years ago.
It’s important to remember that the hypocrisy of that moment does not negate the validity of the overarching principles. We failed then, and we’ve continued to fail in the 244 intervening years, to reach our lofty ideal.
As we work to make our society a better, fairer place in the year 2020 and for the next 244 years, the principles of freedom, equality and justice for all should remain our goal.